Presented on Saturday, October 5, 2019 in the Barn at Quarry Farm as part of the "Mark Twain and Nature" Quarry Farm Symposium.
Mark Twain's depiction of Lake Tahoe in chapters 22-23 of Roughing It --"the fairest picture the whole earth affords"-- has embedded him within Tahoe's history and culture. His descriptions of pristine waters of the lake echo the transcendental phrasings of Thoreau in "The Ponds" chapter of Walden and fit securely within the 19th century Romantic tradition of wilderness writing. The lakes become important measures of the authors' conceptualization of the nature world -- their "practice of the wild," in the poet Gary Snyder's terms. using theoretical applications of wildness, including Thoreau's essay "Walking," I argue neither author's literary imagination reconciles the presence of wildness, ultimately appropriating it as a setting where human activity takes place, and resisting the representation of nature as an organism in a state of constant change. Even Thoreau, after his disorienting climb to the summit of Mt. Ktaadn, vows to settle for a more orthodox assimilation of wildness.
J. Mark Baggett is Associate Professor of English and Law, Samford University and Cumberland School of Law. His teaching and research concentrates on American Humor; American language and literature, particularly Mark Twain; Southern literature, and law and literature. His recent research on Twain's use of legal rhetoric is an outgrowth of his teaching legal writing, now "Lawyering and Legal Reasoning," at Cumberland since 1987. He contributed articles on legal issues in the Mark Twain Encyclopedia and is working on a book-length project on Mark Twain and the law, building interdisciplinary research on Twain's broad appropriation of legal rhetoric.